Since President Trump’s election to the highest office in the nation, there has been much talk about the increasing popularity of the “white nationalist movement.” Merriam-Webster offers a definition of a “white nationalist” as “one of a group of militant whites who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation.” In addition, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defines “white nationalist groups” as ones that “espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites.” The SPLC also notes several groups within the larger category of “white nationalists” including, but not limited to, the “Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, racist skinhead, and Christian Identity.”
While the white nationalist movement has recently gained more media attention, the beginnings of the white nationalist movement in America date back to the beginnings of America itself. For example, the Naturalization Act of 1790, which provided the first laws regarding citizenship for immigrants entering the United States, limited naturalization to immigrants who were “free white persons” of “good moral character.” Black people born in the United States were not given citizenship until 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, and citizenship for other non-whites born in the United States was not explicitly established until 1898 in United States v. Wong Kim Ark.
Non-white citizens continued to struggle for true social equality throughout the 20th century…
As more and more immigrants came to America looking for work, groups influenced by white nationalist ideals became more vocal in their opposition to an increasingly non-white America. The result of that opposition was displayed in race-specific legislation, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which “halted Chinese immigration for ten years and prohibited the Chinese from becoming U.S. Citizens.” Hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan gained popularity in the early 20th century, reviving white nationalism by “burning crosses and staging rallies, parades and marches denouncing immigrants, Catholics, Jews, blacks, and organized labor.” Non-white citizens continued to struggle for true social equality throughout the 20th century, seen most prominently in the Civil Rights Movement. During this period, there were horrific acts of violence against minority communities, including “bombings of black schools and churches and violence against black activists in the South.”
While the United States has made significant progress in racial equality over the years, recent headlines reinforce that there is still much work to be done. The Trump administration has repeatedly been tied to the white nationalist movement, especially due to President Trump’s close relationship with Steven Bannon, Trump’s chief White House strategist who has been accused of being a white nationalist, a racist, and an anti-Semite. Bannon is the former head of the far-right website Breitbart News, which infamously published articles under his watch such as “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”; “…Huma Abedin ‘Most Likely a Saudi Spy’ with ‘Deep, Inarguable Connections’ to ‘Global Terrorist Entity’”; and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy.” According to an article by the New York Times, “Bannon describes himself as a leader of the alt-right, a loose term describing a far-right ideology that includes opposition to immigration and globalism.”
While the Trump administration has attempted to separate itself from the alt-right movement and white nationalist supporters, there have been certain incidents that continue to tie President Trump to the white nationalist movement. Last fall, in the weeks after Trump’s presidential victory, the National Policy Institute gathered for its annual conference at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C. Despite its seemingly benign name, the National Policy Institute describes itself as “an independent organization dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.” At the conference, Richard B. Spencer, the self-proclaimed leader of the alt-right movement, referred to the mainstream media as “Lügenpresse,” a racist slur used by Nazis to attack their critics in the press. After several other xenophobic remarks, Spencer concluded the speech by declaring, “Hail Trump, hail our people, hail victory!”—a statement which was received by the mostly white, male audience with “cheers, applause, and enthusiastic Nazi salutes.”
[T]here were at least 100 reported bomb threats to Jewish community centers…
Perhaps even more disturbing are the recent acts of vandalism and bomb threats against the Jewish community in the United States. In the weeks following President Trump’s inauguration, there were at least 100 reported bomb threats to Jewish community centers and schools across America, which turned out to be part of a “frightening nationwide hoax targeting Jewish facilities.” In January, an F.B.I. official reportedly said “the bureau and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division were investigating ‘possible civil rights violations in connections with threats’ to Jewish community centers across the country.” That same month, Jewish blogger Marc Yellin received threatening messages in his email containing anti-Semitic slurs such as “If you try to get the US involved in another war for Israel there are thousands of sleepers in the US who will shoot up your synagogues.”
The Jewish community has also been attacked through instances of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, perhaps most notably in the case of a century-old Jewish cemetery in University City, Missouri, where nearly 200 graves were vandalized. Families frantically searched the cemetery in an attempt to learn whether their relatives’ graves were ruined in the attack. Vice President Mike Pence stopped by the cemetery and told those in attendance, “there is no place in America for hatred or acts of prejudice or violence of anti-Semitism.” In an article for the New York Times, Oren Segal, the director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism stated “We’ve never had this level of anti-Semitism — from different places on the ground, on your phone, literally over the phone — come at a time when hate groups and white supremacists, in particular, felt they had a champion in the highest office.” Data from the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division actually seems to show that the increase in violence against the Jewish community actually began before President Trump took office; in 2015, the most recent year for which FBI data is available, the FBI recorded 664 anti-Jewish incidents, which was an increase of about 9 percent from the previous year.
[I]nstances of racial threats and attacks on minority communities are not isolated.
Unfortunately, these instances of racial threats and attacks on minority communities are not isolated. In late January, a black family in Florida found racist notes including swastikas on the windshields of three of their cars, and noticed one tire on each car was slashed. The mother noted her family may have been targeted because her daughter was a Black Lives Matter organizer. In another case, someone drew a swastika beside the word “Trump” with chalk on statue at Rice University in Houston, Texas. During that same month, vandals had also written “Trump 2016” on a portion of the Berlin wall at the university, and placed white supremacist recruitment posters on campus.
North Carolina has not been unaffected by the recent surge in the white nationalist movement; within 48 hours of the announcement of Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the KKK chapter in Pelham, North Carolina, announced it would hold a parade in celebration of President Trump. The group reportedly listed on their Facebook page, “Victory Klavalkade Klan Parade Dec. 3rd 2016 North Carolina,” but did not mention a location. The Anti-Defamation League has stated that the KKK Chapter in Pelham is known as “perhaps the most active Klan group in the United States today.” In February 2017, residents of Roxboro, NC found KKK fliers in their yards inside clear Ziploc bags filled with candy. The fliers reportedly stated “Love your own race, stop race mixing, join the Klan today.”
Whether or not the correlation between the Trump administration and the recent surge in the white supremacist movement is based in fact or misleadingly emphasized by Trump opponents, one thing is clear—America cannot tolerate these threats and acts of aggression against minority communities.